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Financial Incentives Effective in Smoking Cessation

Found to be better alternative than free counseling, cessation aids

THURSDAY, May 14, 2015 (HealthDay News) — Paying smokers to quit seems to work better than offering them free counseling and nicotine replacement therapy, new research suggests. The report was published online May 13 in the New England Journal of Medicine.

In the study of 2,538 CVS Caremark employees across the United States, some smokers were rewarded money if they quit, while others could earn back more than their $150 deposit if they quit. However, those who put up their deposit could also lose it if they weren’t successful with quitting. Although fewer people opted for putting their own money at risk, those who did were more likely to quit than those who chose the reward challenge.

“We found that reward-based programs were more effective overall because many people didn’t want to sign up for the programs requiring deposits,” lead author Scott Halpern, M.D., Ph.D., of the Perelman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia, told HealthDay. However, for the approximately 14 percent of smokers who would have accepted any program, the deposit programs were twice as effective as the rewards programs, and five times more effective than simply receiving free smoking aids, he said.

People in reward-based programs could get $800 if they quit, and those in deposit-based programs could get back their $150 deposit plus $650 if they quit, the researchers explained. Employers and insurers could do a lot more to curb smoking and to reduce costs by designing programs that account for human psychology, Halpern noted. “That people seek to minimize loss is one of several psychological insights that can help supercharge incentive programs without increasing their costs to employers or insurers,” he said.

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